Utah lawmakers pick top Mormon church lobbyist to run Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel

John Q. Cannon poses for a photo after a hearing where Utah lawmakers recommended him for a top job over seeing the legislature's office that drafts laws, gives legal advice and staffs committees. The panel of Utah lawmakers is recommending the Mormon church's top lobbyist take a new job overseeing the Legislature's office that drafts laws, gives legal advice and staffs committees, Aug. 2, 2017, location not specified | Associated Press photo by Michelle Price, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers on Wednesday recommended the chief lobbyist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a top job overseeing the Legislature’s office that drafts laws, gives legal advice and staffs committees.

The appointment illustrates what is sometimes seen as a thin line between Utah’s government and the LDS church, a faith to which most state lawmakers and residents belong.

John Q. Cannon’s nomination to head up the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel drew no public debate or questions from lawmakers or government watchdog groups in Utah, and a bipartisan group of a dozen lawmakers unanimously and quickly recommended him for the job.

But the Freedom From Religion Foundation — which represents atheists, agnostics and others who advocate broad separation between religion and government — said the choice seems far too cozy and perpetuates a national impression that the LDS church runs the Utah Legislature.

“This would seem to entangle it completely,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation’s co-president. “It’s the appearance, and it’s the conflict of interest. He was paid to promote Mormon doctrine at the legislature. . . How could he possibly be anything but a patsy for the Mormon church in his new position?”

Cannon is expected to resign from his job with the church and step into his new role Sept. 1, but his appointment is still subject to a final approval from the full Legislature early next year.

The position pays between $100,000 and $160,000 annually and includes overseeing a staff of about 65 attorneys, policy analysts and other workers. In addition to drafting laws and advising lawmakers on legal matters, the nonpartisan office gives guidance on constitutional issues and legislative rules and provides information technology services.

Democratic Rep. Brian King of Salt Lake City said he understands concerns that the church, to which about 60 percent of Utah’s population belongs, has too much influence over the Legislature and why the appointment might raise eyebrows.

“I get the fact that it’s a concern, but I just think that the kind of work that he has been doing for the church, the LDS Church, is something that he can easily transition away from,” said King, who co-chaired the hiring committee.

Cannon beat out four other finalists for the job. He spent two decades working in that legislative office before he left to work for the church in 2012. He said his qualifications and his longtime experience at the Legislature — not his role as the church lobbyist — got him the job.

I will answer to and be completely loyal to the Legislature and the people that they represent,” he said ahead of the hearing. After his recommendation, Cannon said was honored to get the job.

The Mormon church has a right to address issues it believes are important, Cannon said, adding that he thinks “people will be surprised at how little the church actually lobbies.”

The church has said in the past that it reserves the right to express its views on issues that have community or moral consequences or that affect church interests, but it does not direct its members how to vote. A telephone message seeking left with the church’s public affairs office was not returned.

Two state lawmakers who are Mormons publicly criticized the faith and its influence last year, saying opposition from church leaders snuffed out legislative proposals to pass a medical marijuana law and beef up the state’s hate crimes law with protections for LGBTQ people.

Four members of the six-person hiring subcommittee, including King, said they are members of the Mormon faith but said religion was not a consideration and that Cannon’s experience made him the best choice.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said lawmakers know Cannon well and his time working for the church is just “part of a work experience and a life.”

The choice doesn’t show much respect for the line between church and state, said Russell Arben Fox, a lifelong Mormon and political science professor at the liberal arts college Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. Cannon could be overseeing legislation he helped promote recently, Fox said.

“I don’t think that a lobbyist for a church should be able to immediately go to work overseeing legislation in the same way that I don’t think a lobbyist for Koch Industries should immediately be able to be hired by Congress to serve on an environmental staff,” Fox said. “You want to at least maintain in principle some divide.”

Written by MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press. Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • desertgirl August 3, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Definitely time to rid the state of Utah of Mormon Church control. This is 21st century United States; no religious organization should literally run a state. The laws and practices of the church intentionally, with malice of forethought, work against the success of many non-church members, their children in school settings and promote LDS business cronyism. It is near impossible to hold a Mormon business person responsible in the state of Utah as the politicians, contractors, management companies, attorneys, doctors, protect to each other to the extent they get away with egregious actions. The country is not served well by this kind of influence by the LDS than it is by Muslim communities where no one else is welcome and lives by their own laws. Enough.

    Hopefully, this will change as the population growth brings citizens from all over the country of different religious persuasions, ideas, and talents.

    • Real Life August 3, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Couldn’t agree more. Prepare for the likes of Mesaman telling you to move if you don’t like it.

      • mesaman August 3, 2017 at 9:02 pm

        Good luck dessert girl and low life in your quest to rid the state of it’s majority. Maybe you could consult your Ouija Board or Tarot Cards; maybe even seek advise from Bammie and his minions.

        • comments August 4, 2017 at 11:59 am

          mm, you are probably the most unmormonly mormon around. You’re just so ornery and hateful and angry. Have you been thanking The Lord for the gov’t socialism that you live off of every day of your remaining life?


          • 42214 August 4, 2017 at 7:51 pm

            Gotta hand it to ya, you described Mesaman perfectly.

  • Brian August 3, 2017 at 10:43 am

    “He was paid to promote Mormon doctrine at the legislature” is a blatant falsehood and doesn’t even come close to resembling reality. The guy has 20 years of experience in the very department he’ll be overseeing and is clearly qualified, known and respected. “Freedom From Religion” is found nowhere in “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.

  • Utahguns August 3, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Can you say “conflict of interest” ?
    Or better yet…”Political and Religious Cronyism”

  • MeandME August 3, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Ha, I love how people not of the LDS faith get upset because, as the article stated, 60% of Utah’s population is LDS and there are so many LDS individuals in government. What do you expect? Besides, you expect us to conform to the other 40%? Please…grow up, loosen your panties and deal with the fact that if the government officials are LDS then chances are that most of them are going to lean towards LDS beliefs and morals because more than 1/2 of the states population lean towards the same morals. You don’t see LDS members moving to California and losing their minds because the legislatures aren’t dominant LDS.

    • comments August 3, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Utah gov’t is LDS, Warren Jeffs was FLDS, all are mormon, mormons will protect other mormons even with slight variation in beliefs, and utah’s gov’t knowingly allowed the mormon prophet Jeffs to molest and rape little girls for years and years and years. Got to love mormonism. hypocrisy at it’s very finest.

      • MeandME August 3, 2017 at 4:11 pm

        Wow. Wow. It takes a very ignorant person to think that the LDS and FLDS churches/organizations are the same. You just proved to me you know nothing about the LDS and probably FLDS churches. Besides, you have to change the topic to seek any validation? Nice.

        • comments August 3, 2017 at 5:56 pm

          How have I changed the topic? The topic is LDS political influence in UT politics. I am LDS and probably know more about the church and its history than you ever will. The mormon pedophile prophet Jeffs was allowed to do his thing here in UT because the mormon run UT state gov’t allowed it. I love how whiny you LDS’ers get when the facts aren’t to your liking. Whine away 😉

        • Real Life August 3, 2017 at 9:09 pm

          They both abide by the same silly book. You can’t argue that.

        • Utahguns August 3, 2017 at 9:26 pm

          Sorry, but I beg to differ with you…..

          Although the “official LDS church” doesn’t recognize other sects of the religion, there are other groups that claim to be the true Mormon church. These congregations formed early in Mormon history. After the Succession Crisis, which followed the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844, a number of competing hierarchies were organized that fall into the two main branches of the movement, sometimes called the “Prairie Saints” and the “Rocky Mountain Saints.”

          Today, there are as many as 100 organizations claiming to be a part of the Latter-Day Saint religion, most are centered in places where important historical events in the religion occurred like Utah or Missouri.
          Most followers regard their particular group, however small, to be the only legitimate Mormon church. Most of these organizations are small in number, but the second largest denomination, the Community of Christ, reports over 200,000 members.

          Many additional small Mormon faith groups, including:

          Aaronic Order: Unknown membership; 6 centers; 20 ministers

          Apostolic United Brethren: About 7,000 members; they disagree with the LDS’ decision to allow ordination of African-Americans and allowing women to assume leadership positions.

          Church of Christ (Fetting/Bronson): Has about 2,000 members

          Church of Christ (Temple Lot): Has about 2,400 members

          The Church of Christ “With The Elijah Message,” established anew in 1929: Has 12,500 members worldwide

          Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite): Has about 2,700 members

          United Order Effort: A polygamy practicing group, excommunicated by the main LDS church, of perhaps 10,000 members

          The Restoration Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: It split from the Reorganized Church in 1991 because of the latter’s liberal theology. It is centered in Independence, Missouri, and had an estimated membership of 2,500 in mid-1996. They publish a periodical “The Restoration Advocate” six times a year.

          And of course your local polygamist FLDS group.

        • fubar August 4, 2017 at 5:43 am

          Read some non LDS approved books about Joseph Smith and you will see he is very similar to Darren Jeffs

          • fubar August 4, 2017 at 5:44 am


  • comments August 3, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    what we have in UT is what you could call Theocracy Lite.

    • comments August 3, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      It’s mostly about letting LDS get away with shady business dealings and corruption and letting them off with extremely light sentences if they’re ever caught in their wrongdoing. Your temple recommend is a “mormon get-out-of-jail-free card”. Sometimes wish I had one, but I’m not about to pay the LDS corporation even a dime.

      • think4urself August 3, 2017 at 3:05 pm

        You nailed it! A stake president in the area was caught dirty handed in a prostitution ring bust but but but hold on he has a temple recommend!! Yeah uh huh. It’s such bull crap but what’s just as awful is the people like the comment above meandMe who think that their way is so righteously right that they don’t see how wrong mixing church and state is. Their conditioned way of thinking keeps them from seeing and realizing how ridiculous a lot of their beliefs and morals are.

        • comments August 3, 2017 at 6:01 pm

          They are brainwashed, plain and simple. And that’s very blatantly biased in the mormon’s favor with that man’s sentence for the prostitution ring. The guy should be doing at minimum 10years, but he’s a “wonderful wholesome LDS man” even though he ran a prostitution ring.

          I love you mormons–you’re all so backasswards and brainwashed <3 😉

  • DRT August 3, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    If you want to get the Mormons out of the legislature, and in a big hurry, make all legislative positions unpaid, just like New Mexico! Of course it will never happen, because there’s no way that current legislaters are going to vote for any bill that would cut into their own pockets.
    This country should never have started paying ANY politician in any position, anything! Then we would never have had to deal with career politicians who are far more interested in lining their pockets, than in doing what is right for their constituents!

  • UtahPatriot August 4, 2017 at 7:16 am

    I’m just sitting here waiting for the day when the mormons who run Utah realize the huge amounts of cash they are missing on a daily basis by not legalizing marijuana! Whether you are for it or against it, their hypocrisy will eventually shine through and they’ll have a “revelation” about it. They are too money-hungry to ignore it, especially since two states that border it are wallowing in new tax cash.

  • Mike P. August 4, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think I’ll go have a beer. A REAL beer, not 3.2 beer.

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